On Aug. 16, 1998, Linda Case was pictured on the front page of the Santa Ynez Valley News.
She was a new member of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, and posed with the chapter's president and an officer of the visitors bureau at a meeting hosting Solvang's city manager.
Today, Case lives with one of her daughters in Buford, Georgia, about 40 minutes from Atlanta, and her story has more twists and turns, family intrigue and betrayal, than your average Lifetime TV movie.
The former accountant and mother of three is sharing her story now with hope that it will help her return to the Valley. It's that goal that keeps her going after an odyssey that included prison time for trying to protect her sister, Rebecca ("Becky") Parrett, who was once a fugitive on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
Case was born in Henderson, West Virginia, and grew up with older brother Dan and younger sister Becky. "Becky was like a baby doll then. I took care of her," said Case, speaking from Georgia. At 16, Case became pregnant, had a brief marriage to the baby's father, and moved with infant son, Michael, to Columbus, Ohio, where her parents had relocated. With the support of her family, the teen mom obtained her GED, went on to graduate from Ohio State, and launched a career in accounting.
The Santa Ynez Valley
From 1980-96, Case owned a successful Columbus accounting firm where she specialized in income tax returns. It was during that time that her older daughter, Sheri, moved to Santa Barbara, and daughter Trisha came west to attend UC Irvine. Son Michael also lived in Santa Barbara for a few years. Case made several visits to California, and discovered the Santa Ynez Valley. Wanting to be closer to her children, in 1997 she took a leap of faith that she'd be able to reestablish herself, and moved to Santa Ynez.
"I rented a house on Refugio Road in Santa Ynez, and just loved it." She became business manager at the Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church.
The closeness she'd once shared with her sister Becky had largely faded, though they remained in contact. Then Case's son died of a drug overdose. Not knowing which way to turn, just 18 months after settling in the Santa Ynez Valley, she accepted Becky's invitation to move in with her at a sprawling estate she owned in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Becky had just been on the cover of the magazine Today's Arizona Woman, posing in front of a private plane, the subject of a glowing profile on how she'd gone from Medicare clerk to co-founder of a medical finance company with $200 million in annual billings. The firm, National Century Financial Enterprises (NCFE), provided loans to small hospitals and other health care providers against their accounts receivable. It was a highly profitable business, with NCFE opening multiple offices from Ohio to Arizona.
Case soon discovered, however, that Becky didn't want her there in Scottsdale to console her. She moved Case into the servants' quarters and put her to work, without pay, managing the estate and taking care of the animals, she said. Case's daughters were horrified, and convinced their mother to move to Buford, where Trisha had made her home with her family. Still restless and unsure of her future, Case longed to be back in the Valley and life before her son died. In 1999, she moved to Solvang where she rented a house and found work doing books at the Alisal Guest Ranch.
Living in the Valley was expensive, however, and in 2001 Case decided to again go back east, first to Buford, and then to Columbus, where taking care of her then-widowed aging mother was practically a full-time job.
What she didn't know was that Becky's seemingly perfect life was about to unravel. In 2002, three days after their brother, Dan, died of leukemia, the FBI raided NCFE's headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, amid allegations of massive financial wrongdoing. The investigation and subsequent trial lasted six years. In 2008, Becky and her NCFE co-founders were all convicted. Becky was found guilty on nine counts of securities fraud, money laundering and other charges tied to the nearly $2 billion collapse of NCFE which resulted in the collapse of over 275 small hospitals and nursing homes.
"I wasn't at all surprised," said Case. "She changed so much after she became wealthy. She was not a nice person."
On the day the convictions were announced in the federal courthouse in Columbus, Judge Algenon Marbley ordered Becky's co-defendants held in jail pending their sentencing hearing which he calendared for two months later. Becky requested she be allowed to go to her estate in Arizona so that she could get her affairs there in order. Marbley agreed, and Becky traveled unsupervised to Scottsdale. She was supposed to be fitted for an ankle-monitoring bracelet and remain under house arrest until returning to Ohio for sentencing.
Becoming a fugitive
Instead Becky disappeared. She left behind her adult son, Robert Parrett, her sixth husband, plus sister Linda and their ailing mother. She landed a place on the FBI's Most Wanted list — one of the few women in history to ever have that distinction — and was featured on the TV show, "America's Most Wanted."
Just prior to the conviction Becky talked Case into buying a pre-paid phone she could use to reach her in case of emergency. "She told me she was afraid for her life. I believed that she was really scared and had been threatened," said Case.
With her whereabouts completely unknown, Case feared that Becky had been kidnapped or seriously harmed. Their mother was certain her daughter was dead.
A few days went by and Case received a text on the pre-paid phone. "I'm OK. Tell no one."
Another two months passed before the phone rang. This time it was Becky wanting to set up regular telephone and email communication. Case also had a visit from Becky's husband who gave her a box of Becky's things, including a CD that contained a 280-page manifesto Becky had titled "Victim of Justice," which she insisted proved her innocence.
Lying to authorities
In March 2009, Case answered the door and came face to face with two U.S. marshals who asked if she'd had any communication with her fugitive sister. "I have not," she told them.
Case said she consulted with an attorney who advised her it was not illegal to communicate with a fugitive. Lying to federal agents is a different matter. "I thought I was protecting my family. It was so easy to lie and say I hadn't heard from her," she said.
Another year went by before the marshals returned, this time accompanied by a SWAT team with guns drawn. Case was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements. Within days she'd made a plea deal, pleading guilty to one count of making a false statement (the obstruction charge was dropped), and told officials everything she knew.
Case assumed she'd be out of jail in days but had the extreme bad luck of having Judge Marbley assigned to her case. Marbley ordered Case held without bail pending her sentencing.
"I was being held as bait," said Case. "They obviously thought that Becky would learn I was behind bars and would return. They didn't know Becky." Case ultimately spent six months in the Delaware County (Ohio) jail. "What that does to you at age 66 is unimaginable. I had never even had so much as a parking ticket."
Case moved back to Georgia, and two months later learned that Becky had been found in Jalisco, Mexico and extradited to Ohio.
Becky was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison, with Judge Marbley presiding. He noted that on top of the financial fraud she'd committed, and the fraud she'd committed by fleeing, the worst thing she'd done "is the way you used and manipulated your sister. If you want to apologize to anyone, you should apologize to your sister," he said from the bench.
That apology never came and the sisters haven't spoken since 2010. "Some day she'll reach out to me again, but my girls have told me they'll disown me if I ever have contact with her again," Case said. "Actions have consequences. My intentions were good but my actions were not and I paid for that dearly."
Becky Parrett remains an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution, a low security prison for females in Dublin, California. Her release date is Aug. 3, 2032. She will be 89 years-old.
Parrett declined an interview request from the Valley News. Her son, Robert, also declined an interview but telephoned because, he said, he "didn't want to be impolite." He also wanted to share a website supporting his mother's claims of innocence.
For Linda Case, Becky's imprisonment opened a new chapter in her life. "I found writing to be very therapeutic," she said. "I put my grief into words."
She's just completed a memoir titled "The Fugitive's Sister," and is trying to find an agent who will help her get the book published. She's confident that will happen, and said she already has plans for whatever money she makes from the endeavor.
"I'm moving back to the Santa Ynez Valley. It's what I dream of."